Children 'having panic attacks about meeting friends' after lockdowns'

Five-year-olds are having panic attacks about meeting friends for playdates after repeated lockdowns, NHS leaders say

  • Some 1.5million children ‘will need mental health treatment after lockdowns’
  • Health bosses warn of ‘explosion of locked-in trauma’ due to lockdown impact
  • It comes as Children’s Commissioner says new survey will show scale of problem

Children as young as five are having panic attacks about meeting their friends for playdates following repeated lockdowns, NHS have today warned.

Some 1.5million children will need mental health treatment in the wake of the pandemic, as health bosses warn of an explosion of ‘locked-in trauma’.

It comes as the pandemic has left some young children increasingly anxious and some even scared to leave their home.

Meanwhile, waiting times of up to four years for NHS help has forced some families to turn to private psychologists for help – but they also oversubscribed and unable to take more patients. 

Some said they are taking twice as many calls from parents as usual and are being forced to use waiting lists or turn away patients. 

Forecasts seen by The Telegraph show an extra 1.5million children and young people will need mental health support ‘as a direct impact of the pandemic’ in the next three to five years.

Some 1.5million children will need mental health treatment in the wake of repeated lockdowns, it emerged last night. Pictured: Library image

The calculations from the Centre for Mental Health suggested that demand will be as much as three times the capacity of mental health services.

In the year since the first lockdown, 420,504 youngsters reportedly received NHS treatment for mental health problems – an 11 per cent rise in two years.

NHS England’s director for mental health Claire Murdoch explained that ‘the pandemic has turned young people’s lives upside down’.

Meanwhile, Dame Rachel De Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said a survey of more than 550,000 children will show mental health to be the greatest concern of this generation of children. 

Dame Rachel De Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said a survey of more than 550,000 children will show mental health to be the greatest concern of this generation of children

At a meeting of NHS Confederation, a membership body for organisations that commission and provide National Health Service services, she spoke of her experience of having spoken to children about the impact of lockdown. 

According to the Telegraph, she told the meeting: ‘I’ve been around the country and seen those sad little faces … putting their arms around their friends as they tell me about having their trauma from losing a grandparent, not being able to go to a funeral. Coming out of lockdown and not knowing how to make friends anymore, not knowing how to talk to anyone else.’ 

The NHS England is later today expected to promise an extra £40million for children’s mental health services. 

It comes as a report earlier this month revealed how thousands of children living in poverty have had their mental health ‘crushed’ by lockdowns, leaving them ‘struggling to just get through the day’.

More than a quarter of 75 charities surveyed said some children had expressed suicidal thoughts, while 41 per cent said some had been abused at home in lockdown.

Overall more than eight in ten of the organisations said the children they work with ‘were experiencing serious mental health issues as a direct result of lockdown measures’.

And almost four out of five charities said that social distancing and a lack of social interaction were still damaging children’s mental health despite lockdown easing.

Despite recent debate focusing on educational catch-up efforts, today’s findings will intensify fears over a looming mental health crisis among the ‘Covid generation’.

More than a quarter of 75 charities surveyed said some children had expressed suicidal thoughts, while 41 per cent said some had been abused at home in lockdown (file photo)

Heartbreaking testimony in the report included an 11-year-old saying how during lockdown: ‘I used to go to my room, hide under the covers and cry, and cry, and cry.’

One nine-year-old boy said he felt he had ‘forgotten everything’ he learnt at school.

He said: ‘I was looking forward to going back to school but when I got there, I wanted to come home again because the teacher didn’t make any sense. I just couldn’t understand what he was saying. I’d forgotten everything. Now I don’t want to go to school anymore. I feel really anxious.’

Laurence Guinness, chief executive of The Childhood Trust, said: ‘For many of these children, the lockdowns have exacerbated chronic anxiety, stress, inadequate diets, domestic violence, loss of peer support and rapid mental health deterioration.

‘While the nation worries about whether or not they will make it abroad this summer, children living in poverty are worrying about school and having suicidal thoughts. Many are struggling to just get through the day.’

The Childhood Trust surveyed 75 charities, children’s programmes, and community organisations supporting around 85,890 disadvantaged children and young people across London.

Heightened anxiety and depression were the most common mental health symptoms, according to the charities – trends that are likely to be mirrored all across the country. Children with eating disorders were also being helped by two in five of the charities, while three in twenty charities had encountered youngsters misusing drugs. A similar figure had dealt with youngsters misusing alcohol.

The report concludes that as lockdown eases vulnerable children will be the most in need of ‘safe spaces’.

Dr Tamsin Newlove-Delgado, an honorary consultant at Public Health England, said: ‘The impact of the pandemic response on the mental health and wellbeing of the most disadvantaged children and families has been a major concern.

‘Even with an easing of restrictions, there is still a lack of social interaction and in-person play time affecting children and young people’s health and wellbeing. These findings demonstrate the need for a recovery approach which addresses pre-existing inequalities and offers safe spaces, support and restorative play and activities for those most in need.’ 

The Childhood Trust is launching its £4million Champions for Children campaign on Tuesday, and will fund a record breaking, 111 children’s charities across London to engage over 150,000 children.

Donations can be made at: https://championsforchildren.childhoodtrust.org.uk/kt5

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